Cruise Ship Terror: Survivors Describe Sun-Deck Massacre
Jul. 13, 1988
PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) _ Ing-Brit Kack, a Swedish clerk on holiday, was on the deck of the City of Poros admiring the sunset when a handsome young man 10 feet away pulled a submachine gun from his backpack and started shooting.
It was 7 p.m. Monday, July 11. The ship was bound for its home dock at the Trocadero marina with 417 foreign tourists and 22 crew members after a day- cruise through the Greek islands.
What the brochure called a ''once in a lifetime cruise'' suddenly became a hell of gunfire, grenade explosions and raging flames. The attack took four minutes. When it was over, nine people were dead and 98 wounded.
Mrs. Kack spoke from her hospital bed Tuesday of the young man who fired first:
''He was sitting about three meters away from me. I saw him go over to a storage compartment, put his backpack on it, and I remember the clicking sound he made as he fumbled around inside. It reminded me of a roulette wheel. ... He was obviously loading his weapon then.''
At least two other terrorists opened fire and hurled grenades, setting fire to the ship. The sun deck collapsed onto passengers in the lounge below. Some terrified passengers jumped into the Saronic Gulf to escape.
The terrorists got away - in a waiting speedboat or by jumping off the ship with pasengers, according to conflicting reports. Security officials said they believe the attackers intended to hijack the ship and demand the release of a Palestinian jailed in Athens, who is accused of bombing a Pan Am jet six years ago.
It was a hot and sunny day, perfect for a cruise, as the City of Poros left the Trocadero marina at 8:30 a.m., passed the Peace and Friendship sports stadium and steamed for the rocky island of Hydra.
The ship docked at Hydra at 11:30 a.m. Most passengers got off for a stroll through the picturesque town built of sandstone.
Then the liner was off for Poros, the island for which it is named. It arrived at 2:15 p.m. A French passenger's description of the scene contrasts with the horror that was less than five hours away:
''Some had lunch on board; others got off and ate in Poros. People chatted, laughed, played cards. ... It couldn't have been a nicer day.''
While the vacationers were bound for Poros, a rented car blew up near the Trocadero marina and the two men in it were blown to bits.
Police said the car was rented by a Lebanese man identified as Hamoud Abdul Hamid, 36, and was packed with weapons and explosives. They theorized that the car was part of a plot to hijack the City of Poros.
Officers examined the remnants of the car as the ship made its way to the island of Aegina, the last call before heading in.
Passengers had about two hours to shop or go swimming. Harbor authorities said the terrorists apparently boarded the ship during that carefree time, at 6:30 p.m.
They struck 30 minutes later, as the ship was 16 miles from home and hundreds of passengers enjoyed the last rays of sun on the deck or a drink in the lounge below.
Karen Vigle, a 17-year-old student from France, said she and some school friends had been admiring the good looks of a young man, not knowing he would try to kill them a few minutes later.
''It was like a bad dream. I heard people screaming and the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire. ... I just lay face downwards on the deck and waited for it all to end. Many people panicked, grabbed life jackets and jumped overboard.''
She was shot in the leg and burned. In a hospital bed nearby, a critically injured friend screamed in pain as nurses changed the dressings on her wounds.
During the attack, one of Mrs. Kack's travel companions, Ulf Johanson, shouted: ''For God's sake, don't move 3/8''
''Those words saved my life. ... They didn't save my sister-in-law's though,'' said Mrs. Kack, who had shrapnel wounds and burns.
The sister-in-law - Irene Kack, 55 - was among hundreds of panic-stricken passengers who ran when the gunfire started. A bullet in the back killed her.
Another Swedish tourist, 66-year-old Greta Nilsson, was chatting with friends when ''there was this huge blast and I saw my husband rolling down the stairway.''
''We were talking about getting our money back because our guide hadn't shown up for the trip when there was this terrific flash. . .. I really thought I was going to die,'' she said. Mrs. Nilsson was hospitalized with shock and her husband, Karlevic, 66, suffered head injuries.
One of six guides for 40 French school children, who asked that his name not be used, said he put life jackets on all of them and prepared them to jump overboard, but a tugboat pulled alongside and they slid down ropes to its deck.
''It was strange, but there was suddenly complete silence,'' he said. ''The gunmen were nowhere to be seen, there was just lots of thick black smoke and several boats coming to our rescue.''